Today, Sony announced two versions of a camera I have been waiting for for years, a full frame mirrorless camera that’s not a Leica M : the A7 & A7R.
On paper, it could be a huge commercial success, but every camera is an exercise in compromise and tech choices could make or break this camera for it’s intended target.
Rumour blogs (in particular Sony Alpha Rumors) have kept us informed regularly of the most likely features so the launch teaches us little, but several pros have been able to handle the cameras and have given their point of view. Here’s my summary of thoughts after reading / viewing theirs.
For the A7R, resolution seems comparable to the Nikon D800 range. It’s too early to know how it competes at the pixel level, but initial results are promising.
The A7 is likely to be nearly identical to cameras such as the Nikon D600 or Sony’s RX1.
High ISO performance seems, again, equivalent to the Nikon D800 (A7R) and slightly better (A7). Given the extra 12-18 months development the sensor has received, let’s hope this is confirmed in more formal tests.
From the very few samples so far, I’d have said Sony colours were evident. Given the company’s marriage with Olympus, I was hoping for a more Olympus-y colour rendition. But that’s purely subjective and obviouly wrong as, in his field test, Brian Smith explains “The A7R feature the most lifelike colors I’ve ever seen from a digital camera”. Oh yes !!
Plus, in his preview, Steve Huff claims image quality may be better, with more pop, than the Leica M 240 using certain Leica lenses and for certain conditions. Hi praise indeed from a dedicated Leica aficionado, even if this has yet to be substantiated with A/B comparisons.
Ming Thein finds a real resemblance with the Olympus OM-D E-M5. I agree, although the E-M5 is a bit more sexy to my eyes.
Co-author Philippe summed it up well by writing it is an odd mix between an Arca-Swiss and something out of a manga.
It’s difficult to call the camera beautiful, but it seems purposeful and looks like a no-nonesense tool rather than a fashion icon (Apple fans won’t like that at all 😉 ). I like that a lot.
After reading reviews of the E-M1 used under the shower, the A7 may seem a little less sturdy. About the same size, it is also lighter weight, which is both good and bad.
Compared to the competition, lack of stabilisation could be perceived as the single greatest handicap of this camera, at least in its A7 version, which is more family oriented with the higher AF capacity (although the lesser resolution helps). I have used my Olympus OM-D E-M5 for over a year and ALWAYS been amazed at the in camera stabilisation. So, for this reason alone, I’d rather get an E-M1 than the A7 (though not an A7R). But let’s not make too big a fuss of this, as the pixels are much bigger on the A7 than on the EM-1.
Things look even better for the A7R, which is clearly aimed at landscape photographers and people who will use a tripod more naturally. The NEX-7 was a similar type of camera and it absolutely demanded a much higher shooting discipline than my NEX-5 for best results. But that’s just a law of photography : the higher quality the work, the better your technique must be. A technical camera such as the Arca-Swiss is even more demanding and way less user friendly.
For Michael Reichmann, there is a very pleasant heft and solidity to the camera, which really is what matter most.
Compared to the Nikon D800e, the lower weight may be a negative (for stability), but the absence of the clunky mirror box, a huge positive.
Ergonomics appear to be very good. Apart from an oddly placed shutter released (according to the very trustworthy Camera Store) all dials and controls are both highly customisable and very pleasant to use. The menu is strait out of the RX1 so it could be that’s there’s too much in there, but it should be easy to navigate.
Shutter noise ! What’s with that, Sony ? From the company that gave us the sublimely delicate RX1, this is such a letdown !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
For my money, THAT is the greatest drawback. I often take pictures in museums and other quiet spaces and the D800e’s loud shutter is an utter pain. I was hoping for better news on this front.
Live view cannot possibly be worse than on the Nikon D800 (loud, inaccurate, grainy …) so that can only be a move for the better, at least for me. The Camera Store seem to like it quite a bit.
Focus peaking also seems to be extremely well implemented. That is so good 🙂
Autofocus is very decent. Do not expect Olympus E-M1 or Canon 5DMkIII levels of performance, but the A7 is visibly about as good as a D800. The A7R, without dedicated phase detection on the sensor, lags a bit behind, particularly when tracking moving objects/pets/children. This will not be a negative for its intended user base.
Burst speed. I don’t recall ever using that mode on a camera except to scare my cat with the noise. Apparently it matters to some and they might be disappointed with lowish 4/s (A7R) & 5/s (A7). Translate that into disk space used per second and you’ll see the picture in reverse, just like me. Verdict, plenty enough. For those who disagree, I recommend the E-M1 !
This is where is gets really juicy !
Sony / Zeiss may be criticized for not bringing us enough lenses but that is complete rubbish. The range is already large enough for most uses and the coming lenses seem to cover a lot of ground for both the family man and the pro.
I haven’t much paid attention to the zoom lenses announced but the 55/1.8 and the 35/2.8 could be (have to be) stellar performers. I will be particularly attentive to the 35, which is my most frequently used focal length. At a very modest f/2.8, Zeiss have an easy lens to design and produce. If they shoot for the stars with this as they did on the RX1 or for their new OTUS, this could be a real peach.
But I think the real magic here is in the adapter range !!
Although Sony’s adapter (pictured above) has received severe criticism, the availability of Nikon, Canon & Leica M adapters is a promise of unending joy. Well the Leica-M adapter anyways 😉
Anyone coming from years of heavy noisy and flat zoom lenses and propelled in the the magic world of Voigtlander, Zeiss and Leica through the use of an adapter is going to see his/her world considerably enlivened ! It came as an utter shock to me a few years ago when I adapted lenses from these makers on my NEX-5n. These lenses have gobs of character. They feel so much more alive and render so much more beautifully than mainstream lenses (even with gold rings, white armour or whatever external sign of quality you call home) that there can be no turning back after a taste.
And it doesn’t have to be expensive, either. A fabulous (universally acclaimed as such) Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35/2.5 will set you back 400€, new. You could spend your entire life with just that one lens and be very happy ! Plus, there are zillions of old Leica lenses just begging to be tried on modern sensors that produce the most enchanting drawing for even less money.
Sony has given us its greatest gift by making its sensor compatible with such lenses. Steve Huff and The Camera Store have been amazed at the results with a Leica Summilux-M 50.
Michael Reichmann, of Luminous Landscape, reports that all his M lenses work fine (with only vignetting from the wide anlges) and there are rumours on Fred Miranda forums that the abominably difficult Zeiss ZM 21 Biogon produces purple fringing (which can be corrected easily), nothing nastier. If true, this means that exceptionnal lenses such as the Leica Summicron-M 28 will work beautifully and that is among the best photo gear news of the decade !
All Leica-R lenses will work perfectly well too. While just a little larger than their M mount counterparts, these are just as lovely to use (I find them easier to focus, too) and much cheaper.
Happy days indeed.
A picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth many thousand images. Particularly one from the great reviewers at The Camera Store.
So here ya go : a review filmed with the camera itself. Brilliant.
From what I understand, control layout and ease of use are great. Sound quality from the onboard mikes is good and manual audio control is possible. All good news.
File quality still needs to be ascertained. I’ve never maid a video in my life, but this might be the camera that will convert me …
Some photographers couldn’t care less what gear they use and produce consistent results with all types of cameras. Others count pixels and frame rates like their life depended on them.
I am very strongly influenced by the camera and lenses I use. It might be a weakness, but there ain’t nothing I can do about it. The way I feel about the camera has a huge impact on my pictures. As much as I admire Leica M cameras, I’ve never shot a good image with one! And yet, I used to adore my Mamiya 7 range finder. Go figure. I hate the lack of grip on the M’s …
The Oly OM-D E-M5 is by a safe margin my most pleasant camera of all times. But the grip is too small, the pictures quickly becomes grainy and digital feeling and M-mount lenses do not agree with the sensor at all. Sony’s A7R seems to correct all of these issues, albeit at the expese of high shutter noise and no stabilisation.
There’s no free lunch. But the A7R comes closer to being THE ideal camera for me than anything esle before. I wouldn’t want it more if it had boobs ! I have just sent a preorder email and cannot wait to use it.
Thank you sony ! If I may add some suggestions : give us leaf-shutter lenses for the A7R and fix the shutter noise for future versions !
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